Why Did I Write a Memoir?

Credit: Neal Sanche (Creative Commons)

Credit: Neal Sanche (Creative Commons)

Before I get into this, I want to congratulate Tanya Marlow. Her new book, Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay, launched today. So I bet you can guess what I’ll be reading tonight.


I’ll have some exciting book announcement stuff of my own coming soon (I want to make a video for that, but I honestly just don’t feel like putting on something other than a wrinkled T-shirt that says “Me? Sarcastic? NEVER!”). For now, I want to talk about why I wrote a memoir.

I guess anyone who reads my stuff would assume they know why I wrote it. When I was eighteen, I had a stalker. So I wrote a misery memoir about being a stalking victim.

Yeahhhhhhh . . . that’s totally not what it is.

What’s the book about?

Sure, the stalking stuff is in there, and sure it’s intense at times, but the point isn’t I was stalked.

The point is the same thing that made my stalker feel entitled to me makes a lot of men feel entitled to women. Stalking isn’t the disease. It’s a symptom.

It’s a book about male entitlement, how that impacts women–not just during the assault, but long after–and the cumulative affect it has.

I pulled stories from my own experiences to try to tell a much bigger story. It’s not my story. It’s our story.

It’s about how women are objectified inside the church and outside the church. It’s about how our allies, the “good guys,” so often turn out to be the guys who hurt us. It’s about how our communities are complicit and turn away from us rather than addressing these issues and solving the problem. Because women are disposable. Because we’re less than. Because supporting us isn’t worth experiencing a little conflict.

Why did I write it?

 

My short answer is, “God told me to.”

And that’s true. I mean, he didn’t speak to me from the clouds or anything, but I have always known I’d write this book. Over the past few years, I’ve felt a strong pull to write it, even when I really, really didn’t want to. I’ve done a lot of praying. Like, a shitload of praying, y’all.

Personal narrative humanizes. It can help people empathize. We should understand what drives sexualized violence by now, but we obviously don’t.

We still blame women. We still excuse the actions and attitudes of men.

My hope is this book can help educate people who are open to understanding, but need to live through some of this alongside someone to really get it.

I spoke with another author early on in this process. She asked me if I’d considered fictionalizing my story. It’d have made things a hell of a lot easier on me, emotionally. But I decided not to because it’s so important for people to understand that these things really do happen. And they really do happen often.

The thing about my story is that it sounds unique and strange, but it’s not. At all.

It’s a common story that just doesn’t get told very often.

I want to be clear here. No victim is obligated to share their story. Not everyone is in a place where it’d be healthy to do that, and there is a real cost associated with coming forward. Sometimes it’s not worth paying that price, and I fully support anyone in that position. If you’ve been through anything like this, please don’t feel bad if you aren’t comfortable speaking out.

I’m telling these stories, not for myself, but for everyone who has stories like this. We shouldn’t all have to bare our wounds to the world to change things. Maybe if I show my wounds, other women won’t have to show theirs.

Am I afraid?

I’ve had several people express some concern for my safety. I really do appreciate that. It means you think I’m valuable enough to keep walking the earth. So, thank you for that. I plan to keep walking around, tossing puns out there, and sharing dank memes.

I am going to have to burst your bubble, though.

The reality is, I’m never safe. You’re never safe. None of us are ever safe.

Yes, I’m putting my name on the cover of this book. Yes, my stalker is still out there somewhere. No, that won’t put me in any more danger than I’ve ever been in.

If he wanted to find me, he’d already have found me.

Next year, I might get a new neighbor and maybe he’s a stalker. Maybe someone online will latch onto me.

I’ll probably get more of this shit. I fully expect it.

The thing is, women are stalked and harassed and assault no matter what they do. That’s also why I wrote this book. To show that.

I could write a book or not write a book. It wouldn’t make any difference. At some point in my life, something will happen to me again. So I may as well do something productive with it all and try to open some eyes.

I’ve counted the cost. So, no, I’m not afraid. And, yes, I know exactly what I’m doing.


If you’ve stuck around this long, here’s an excerpt [trigger warning: non-graphic mention of rape]:

When I was ten years old, I repeated something I’d heard on some late ’80s sitcom. We were driving home from the skating rink and I piped up from the backseat to ask, “When do you think I’ll go through puberty?”

After a tense pause, Mom cocked her head back and told me not to use “language like that.”

Eight years later, I felt more than a little awkward as I sat in a cramped sheriff’s office and described my sexiest pair of underwear to Dad and the balding police officer sitting behind the desk.

Maybe I’d have been better off tossing the underwear and picture into the trash, but I was worried about Ben. Erasing a person by taking away his face was about the creepiest thing I could imagine, so I showed the picture and my underwear to my parents.

Dad drove me down to the sheriff’s office to file a report about it, even though I didn’t want to. I asked Dad why he couldn’t go down and file it for me, but he said I had to because I was the one who found everything, and I was the “object of obsession,” according to those websites Mom kept looking up to read about stalkers. That phrase was the worst. I wasn’t an object.

But Ray had made me into a thing because things can be controlled.

And hadn’t my own church done that to me when they quoted Romans 14:13 and told us girls to be careful about the way we dressed so we wouldn’t be a “stumbling block” to our Christian brothers? A stumbling block isn’t a person, made in the image of God. It’s just a thing. Something you can blame for tripping you.

I didn’t want to be a thing, so I sat across a desk from one of our local officers and tried to tell him what happened without sounding either too hysterical or too relaxed about it all. If I got too worked up, he’d think I was overreacting and shrug the whole thing off. If I didn’t seem upset at all, well, he’d shrug that off too.

The officer listened to me, and then Dad, and nodded as we spoke. Dad wanted a restraining order, or for the police to at least warn Ray to stay away, but the police officer couldn’t fulfill either of those requests. Because what real proof did we have?

Ray had driven up and down our road several times over the past few days, but that wasn’t illegal. And, sure, Ray knew Dad was going to be away from home the night of the break-in, but everyone from our church knew that. Just like anyone from church would know exactly where I sat every Sunday.

Except not everyone from my church had been hanging around me all summer. And not everyone in our church had a history of delusions and violent outbursts. But that still wasn’t enough proof. Besides, Ray couldn’t be arrested for trying to have a conversation with me. He hadn’t been jumping through any plate-glass windows lately, and unless he publicly did something that outrageous again, people would just go right on thinking his delusions were under control.

The police officer leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk. “If he touches you, then we can do something.” He lowered his chin and raised his eyebrows on the word “touches.” It was the kind of eyebrow twitch people shoot at one another when the thing they’re thinking of is too vulgar to say out loud.

I shrank down into the metal folding chair, and my jaw clenched down painfully. So, all I had to do was sit tight until Ray raped me, and then the police would be all over it. Did he really think I was in that kind of danger? Ray was being creepy, but could someone who’d known me since I was fourteen really do that to me?

The police officer cleared his throat and addressed Dad. “Y’all got a gun in the house?”

I guess the officer thought Ray really could do that to me. I hadn’t even been touched, but I felt violated. Stripped naked in that bright office. Knowing Ray had held a pair of my underwear was bad enough, but now other possibilities ran through my head. We didn’t freely say the word “sex” in our house, but now I was talking to Dad and some stranger about my impending sexual assault. Because Ray forced me to talk about it.

We didn’t have any guns, of course, since Dad was a Mennonite pastor. A pacifist. The Bible says, “Do not resist an evil person,” and Dad lived it. At least he lived it in theory since he’d never had his theology tested before. There wasn’t much religious persecution of Anabaptists in the late 1990s.

All through junior high, I’d heard about men like Dirk Willems, who’d been arrested for his Anabaptist faith. Dirk managed to escape his prison and flee across an ice-covered lake. When his jailer tried to follow, and fell through the ice, Dirk turned back to save him. He was repaid by being imprisoned again and executed. But that was all OK because Dirk’s real reward was in heaven and in knowing he’d stayed true to Jesus’s instructions to love your enemies. Following Christ meant laying down your life, literally, if it came down to that. You couldn’t be a Christian and commit a violent act. You just couldn’t.

The officer was a little flustered by Dad’s admission, and turned back to me. He gave me a hard, steady look and said, “Sweetheart, you need to go get yourself a bat. And you sleep with it under your bed every night.”

I glanced at Dad, and forced out, “But I’m a pacifist too.”

The officer closed his eyes for a second and leaned back in his chair. I expected him to spout, “God helps those who help themselves,” but he didn’t.

After we left the station, Dad stopped by Radio Shack to pick up a webcam. He was going to point it out the window, into the parking lot. We’d at least catch Ray on video if he skulked around the front of the house.

But last time he came around back, through my window, and we couldn’t point cameras out every entrance. So, I drove myself back into town and bought a crook-handled umbrella with a big, pointy tip because the discount store didn’t carry bats.

From the Desire of Being Loved

I’m getting to be that age. You know, the age when you take a look at what you have (or haven’t) accomplished.

And it pisses me off so much.

It doesn’t piss me off that I’ve accomplished so little, as much as it pisses me off that other people have accomplished so much.

I wish we were judged more by how difficult it was to accomplish something rather than being judged by the accomplishment itself.

For some people, rolling out of bed every day is 100x harder than running a company would be for someone else.

For some people, earning their high school diploma is 100x harder than the master’s degree someone else earned.

We judge people based on the view from their position. Oh, you’ve reached the summit? What a beautiful view!

That other guy? He hasn’t even made it above the tree line yet.

What we don’t like to talk about is how the first guy had top-notch gear and a guide. The second guy had a pocket knife and a whole family strapped to him the whole time. And when he complained about his crappy knife, someone with expensive gear yelled down to tell him, “Well, at least you’ve got something. You should be thankful.”

Boy, do I ever want to knock those guys off the mountain.

I think it’s great that people are able to reach their goals. I really do. But there’s such a lack of self-awareness in most people. We have this idea that hard work pays off. And it does, but it doesn’t pay off equally.

I’ve always had this idea that eventually my climb would get easier. Maybe I’d get a cool parka or something. If I just kept climbing, I’d get rewarded. I’d get what I’m due.

I’d climb high enough to reach a place where people would see me standing up there. They’d appreciate me and give me a pat on the back for working so hard.

Most of the time, I’m invisible.

My high school had something called Class Day. It was a way of sending off the seniors. On that day, we’d all go into the gym and sit through some goofy prophecies and memories from the seniors. The seniors would have an opportunity to walk out into the bleachers and give gifts to the underclassmen. One year, I had some friends who were seniors. I didn’t expect to get any gifts, though.

I also didn’t expect all of my underclassmen friends—friends who weren’t any better acquainted with some of those seniors than I was—to receive gifts while I didn’t.

I didn’t want a flower or a bag of candy. I wanted to be acknowledged. I wanted to matter.

When I’m being really honest, that’s still what I want. I don’t want to be the girl everyone forgot about. I want to matter.

I irritate people sometimes because I’m hard to compliment. I don’t want to hear I look nice or anything like that, but there are ways of fueling my ego, and boy do I want that fuel.

I want people to see me. I want them to think I’ve got something to offer. I want to be wanted.

But I don’t really deserve attention and accolades any more than the people at the peak of the mountain deserve them. We’re all just using the tools available to us. What’s so special about that?

If I’d had a more stable environment when I was younger, you bet your ass I’d have used that tool to climb higher and faster. And I totally would have basked in those back-pats along the way.

If those peak guys had been forced to drop out of college or had a genetic condition that can’t be fixed, you bet your ass they’d be right where I’m at.

I need to get over worrying about how everyone else sees me.

I know what I am.

I know what I’ve walked through.

I know that sometimes I had an easy and pleasant hike up, and sometimes I was barely hanging on by my fingernails.

I know that some people look at where I’m at and they feel like they haven’t gotten as far as they should have. That’s the kind of thinking that jolts me out of my little bitterness spell.

Because I don’t ever want anyone to feel less-than because of me. I don’t want anyone to feel invisible or unappreciated.

Honey, if you’re still on the mountain at all, you’re fucking amazing.

Life’s hard. People get buried in avalanches all the time. And most of those avalanches are completely random. Managing to avoid them doesn’t make you an expert climber. It makes you lucky.

I’ve avoided a lot of them, and I know it.

And that’s just it, though, isn’t it? It’s the knowing that matters.

If you’ve made it higher than someone else, enjoy the view. But also remember that it was partially being in the right place, at the right time, that got you there.  Sure, you had to make the climb yourself, but you lucked out a lot along the way too.

I bitch about where I’m at sometimes, but I know people who are way more ambitious, intelligent, driven, hard-working, and deserving than I am who are way down there still.

A few people tried to knock me off the mountain, but I didn’t fall off.

So, I have a good grip. B.F.D.

I started out with equipment an Oregon Trail farmer could’ve afforded. (Without the bonus points at the end.)

Who cares? Hell, I’ve got a lot more than a pocket knife.

It’s easy for me to forget I’ve dodged a few avalanches that have taken other people down. I fall into that same self-satisfied trap everyone else falls into. I think I deserve to avoid those avalanches. What bullshit.

Nobody deserves the fucking avalanches.

Nobody deserves the fancy starting equipment.

There’s no correlation between what we have and what we deserve.

I mean, what exactly do I deserve? I haven’t done great things for the world. I haven’t cured anything or stopped any horrible things from happening. Why do I deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated more than some other person?

I usually try to do the right thing, but most people do. I’m not any more deserving of “my day in the sun” than anyone else.

I go to the Litany of Humility when I get like this. I came across it years ago and it helps reorient me. Instead of looking up the mountain, it makes me look down the mountain.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

What are we really supposed to do with our climbing equipment? I’m not supposed to use it to make my way up the mountain. I’m supposed to use it so we can make our way up.

But I can’t do that when I’m so worried about getting all the things I want for myself.

The only way we’re going to get to the top, and deserve getting there, is if we all climb up together. That starts with lowering some ropes and lending our equipment to the people who have a harder climb than us.

I can’t control or influence what’s going on above me, but maybe I can help dig some people out of the snow. Sometimes that means I have to climb down to do that.

And maybe I should get over myself a little.

Maybe if I’m forgotten, someone else doesn’t have to be.

And maybe that’s OK.

Two Mennonites Walk Into a Catholic Literary Gathering…

 

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Full disclosure: Neither of us are actually Mennonites anymore. Sometimes we just pretend to be for the pie.

A few months ago, my friend, Timothy Putnam, gave me a head’s up about the Trying to Say “God” conference. (I’ve got to give him credit here because I usually just give him a lot of crap and nonsense.) Even though I’m not exactly Catholic (I’m not exactly anything), I couldn’t pass it up. Notre Dame isn’t that far from me and it wasn’t expensive, so I decided to give it a try.

My sister and I drove down Thursday afternoon, which meant we missed a few things that day. I would have liked to attend Mass, but part of me is still convinced I’m going to somehow offend people with my presence, so I didn’t push to go.

We must have hit the registration table right when whoever had been watching it was at Mass because it was the only time I saw the table unmanned the whole time. Since Angela and I are all independent and whatnot, we just grabbed our tags, lanyards, and info packets. When a few other stragglers wandered in right behind us, I helped them find their stuff too, which led to people thinking I was helping with the event. I quickly corrected them with, “Nope. I’m just really friendly.” (And I might have issues with boundaries.)

After that, we walked down to see Mary Karr speak. She’d injured herself and couldn’t make it, but that’s what we have Skype for. Angela liked her so much that I bought her a copy of Lit.

The next day, my first session was “The Virgin, the Annunciation, and the Artistic Imagination” with Mary Szybist. I have some mixed feelings about Mary, or really, how Mary gets portrayed, and absolutely loved the artwork and poetry. Angela found her way into a discussion on icons. She didn’t know what icons were. I know what they are (thanks, Orthodox friends!), but I didn’t tell her. Because I’m like that. She thought it was really interesting, so it worked out.

We split up again for the next session. I headed in for “Finding the Sacred in the Profane: The Role of Vulgarity in Religious Art” because of course I did. Are you new here? I appreciated the discussion, especially around where that line is, and I agree that if we’re just shocking to shock, with no greater purpose, it’s likely crossing that line. I struggle with that a little. After being in an environment where “butt” was considered a cuss word, I wave my profanity flag a little too much sometimes. Just because I can doesn’t always mean I should. Unless it’s really funny. Then I totally should. But, really, the whole conversation was right up my alley. Things that we think of as profane can absolutely point us toward the sacred. It’s counter-productive to shy away from using those tools.

Even though I’ve been writing a memoir for what seems like forever, that’s not my normal thing. In the past, I’ve mostly written fiction. And I write about weird shit sometimes, so I sat in on “Weird Fiction as Sacramental Practice”. The nice thing about a presentation like this is it sort of gives you permission to “go there”. Like, some people might call me a witch and threaten to burn me at the stake for writing something weird, but at least not everyone will do that. That’s comforting.

After that, Angela and I walked over to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, even though we were getting rained on.

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Here’s the thing about that…

When I was 10, my family moved from Texas to Elkhart, Indiana. Just after we moved, we were driving home from some place and my dad decided to stop at Notre Dame to look around the campus. I don’t remember anything about walking around the campus except going into the Basilica. Back then, my family didn’t attend church. I’d only ever been to Methodist churches, maybe a total of ten times in my life. Walking into all that artwork and all that stained glass and those ceilings made a big impression on 10-year-old me. Beauty pulls on me and it sure did back then. I wanted to go to that church. I don’t remember a lot about it, but I remember that it felt like a church. I don’t know how to describe it any better than that. Not even a year later, my parents found the Mennonites and we went down that path. I’ve always had a soft spot for Catholicism, even when I was hanging around people who thought being Catholic and being pagan were basically the same thing. The Basilica at Notre Dame is part of that soft spot.

It was really great to be able to visit it again, about 25 years later. A woman saw us walking around and pointed us toward some interesting things. We talked to her for a little while and she tried to convince us to come back as students, but we’re almost two decades too late for that.

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Just before lunch, I sent Timothy a picture of me on campus to see if he could guess where I was. Then I got a list of people he wanted me to say “hi” to because he forgot I’m the most introverted person in the world (You can be both introverted and kind of aggressive. It’s a thing!) and I always make terrible first impressions on anyone who crosses my path. It’s not that I’m shy. I just don’t like to impose myself on other people. When I hemmed and hawed a little about it, he outed me as a Mennonite and sent my picture around to people he knows because apparently that’s what friends do.

I had to duck out early after that. The weather was being crazy and I have chronic migraines, so that’s not a good mix. I was disappointed because I really wanted to hear Heather King speak. I read Shirt of Flame a few years ago and loved it, so I was pretty frustrated with my stupid head. Thankfully, Angela and I had an opportunity to listen to her on our drive home since her talk was recorded and uploaded to Sound Cloud.

I wrapped up Friday night by eating a bunch of lasagna from Olive Garden and chilling in the hotel room. That was kind of a big deal because we don’t have an Olive Garden anywhere near me. When I say I live in the woods, I really mean that. The nearest McDonald’s is about 45 minutes away.

My sister and I are kicking around an idea that we aren’t ready to make public yet, but that idea was why we were so excited to go into our first session on Saturday: “Devotional Literature with Teeth: Writing Complexity and Darkness in Modern Spiritual Writing”. Right before we went in, Angela and I were standing around in the hall (eating free muffins!) and I was venting a little. Sometimes I experience push-back against what I do. If I’d just be a little more inspirational… If I’d just show the upside of a being traumatized… If I’d just clean up my language… If I’d just make people less uncomfortable… I’d have a bigger readership. My response to that is always the same. The people who want some easy, feel-good, inspirational writing without any real substance already have people providing that for them. They’re being served. I’m writing for the people who aren’t served by that. For the people who are still hungry after that. For the people who want to connect with someone who doesn’t pretend that believing in Jesus makes the pain go away. For the people who live with thorns they can’t get rid of. For the people who don’t have any patience for pretentiousness. For people who enjoy a little dark humor because we all get that it’s how we survive sometimes. I don’t care if I have a big readership. I only care if I’m reaching the people I need to reach. It was affirming to hear that echoed in the Devotional Literature panel. I get a lot of “you’re doing it wrong” either implicitly or explicitly. It was nice to hear that maybe I’m doing it right.

My sister walked away with more new books than I did. This is the first time that’s happened since 2003 when she was buying Christian books in a bookstore, while I was loudly being mouthy about how crappy Christians are, right when we ran into a man from our dad’s church who was buying a South Beach Diet book. I told you I don’t make a good impression on people.

The last session we went into was my favorite: “Not Always Sweet: Beyond Liturgical Cupcakes in Catholic Women’s Writing”. When female orgasms get brought up, you know it’s going to be a good time. The only time I got anywhere close to crying was during this session. That’s partially because of how personal and painful some of these stories were, and partially because of how freaking hilarious these women are. Listening to so many different women, from different backgrounds, talk about their own challenges and how they live out their calling as both writers (and I absolutely believe it’s a calling) and Catholic women was the first time in a very, very long time (maybe ever) that I felt like I was sitting in a room with people who really “get it”. I feel privileged to have been some small part of that. I live in a fairly conservative area, and I also run in mostly non-religious circles (out of self-preservation, more than anything). I have a very small circle of women who are both religious and called to create. That gets lonely. It was worth driving five hours, just for this session.

I had to take off after that. Again, I’m so thankful for those Sound Cloud recordings.

I didn’t interact with anyone else too much, aside from my weird rural, southern thing where I “hello” and “how are you?” at almost everyone I pass.

When you’re around a bunch of writers, they’re going to ask you what you write. And remember that thing about me making bad first impressions? Yeah. “Hey! I’m Kristy and I just wrote a book about someone who straight up wanted to murder me because the Bible and some of our church members were cool with it. What’s your deal?” probably isn’t the way to go. They might start thinking he had a point, you know?

I’m really glad I went. It was a positive and affirming experience, which is important to me since I’m up here, alone in the woods and all.

This Post is Definitely, Absolutely, Positively Not About Mike Pence

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I don’t normally jump on the latest topic that’s flying around on social media. And I’m not going to jump on Mike Pence. (I mean. I’m a pacifist. Jumping on people is frowned upon.) What I do want to talk about is something I’ve mostly seen people talk around instead of about.

Some people believe that men and women should never be alone together. That might mean they never ride in a car without a third person, or that might mean they can’t even eat dinner together in a public place.

People who have this rule have it for different reasons. I’m not going to talk about all of those reasons. (If someone wants to defend their reasoning, I’d love it if they wrote their own post. Link it in the comments, if you want).

I’m going to talk about the reason I have personal experience with.


Here’s a journal entry I made when I was 16 years old*:

After we were done at the job site [my dad and a few other adults took the youth group on an MDS trip], we went to a Waffle House by our motel. I took a drink of my water and then dumped two Equal packets into it and Nick asked, “Why’d you do that?”

I told him the water was bland, but he said water couldn’t be bland. It can too be bland.

Then we heard a crash and turned around. Joe had spilled his Mr. Pibb all over Angela and Daniel. It was hilarious.

After we got done eating, me, Andrea, and Nick wanted to go watch TV but all the adults were taking forever. So we decided to walk back to the motel. When we were leaving, Candace yelled, loudly, “Y’all need to leave the door open!”

I just stood there, like, “Huh?” I thought maybe I had the only room key or something and she didn’t want to get locked out.

Then she said, “You know, boys and girls. Together.”

WHAT?!?!?!?!

I tried to make a joke of it, so when we were walking back, I told Andrea, “Hey, are you excited for our big orgy? Do you want to share Nick?”

That’s when I realized Nick was literally right behind me, so I real quick said, “Just kidding,” just so we were clear. I need to stop saying everything that pops into my head.

Anyway, it didn’t even matter because Candace sent other kids out after us and they were mad because they didn’t want to sit in the motel room and watch TV, but they had to because of us.


And then I talk about watching Volcano, but that’s another story.

I want to break this down a little.

At first, we were just a group of kids, being kids. There were absolutely zero sexual thoughts going on. My focus was on bland water and Mr. Pibb accidents. When we went to leave, it never even occurred to me that something sexual might possibly happen while I was watching TV. At that point in my life, I’d never even had a first kiss yet. Never held hands. Nothing.

The woman who didn’t want us to be alone is the one who sexualized that situation, which I tried to defuse with a dumb joke (because, let’s be real… that’s always been my way.) It was embarrassing for her to say that, especially in front of everyone else in our group. And, since my father was there with us, it wasn’t that she was “in charge” of me for the trip or anything like that.

I’d only known that boy for a couple of months. One of my friends was walking over with us. Maybe she thought we were playing a trick with that… I’m not sure. We just wanted to watch TV. It’s an innocent activity.

The suspicion that we might get up to something gave us the impression that we were dangerous to one another. The lack of trust was insulting. The idea that my awkward self might tempt him down some dark, sexually deviant road was mortifying.

I wasn’t Kristy in that moment. I wasn’t a sister in Christ, which is how Christian men should see me. I was a female body that could be the object of sinful lust. I was something to be protected from.

About a year later, this woman was teaching our youth group. She was an advocate for courtship, which required a chaperone to accompany any boy/girl pair. She extended that to adults as well, and gave us an example.

The example she presented was a time, a few weeks prior, when she’d been in the church doing something and my dad had walked in. She told us all she felt extremely uncomfortable being alone with him like that, for the whole, maybe 5 minutes he was in there. My dad was the pastor. Of course he’d be walking into the church sometimes.

How do you think you’d feel if a woman told a group of your friends that she was uncomfortable being alone with your father? What does that make your father sound like?

I pressed her a little on it, asking if he’d actually done anything inappropriate. She said he hadn’t. It was just his presence that made her uncomfortable. Why, though? Because her belief was that you couldn’t trust a man and a woman, alone together. Something might happen, even if the risk was extremely low. And, even if nothing sexual happened, it wasn’t appropriate, even for a congregant and a pastor to share the same space for a few minutes.

What sharing her “caution” did was make my father sound like the kind of creep who would make a woman uncomfortable. (If you knew my dad, you’d know that’s a weird thing to say about him.) What sharing her “caution” did was make me sound like the kind of girl who’d jump a boy the second the motel door closes.

It’s hurtful and shaming.

I can’t speak for every single person out there who’s been touched by the “no boy/girls alone” rule. I can speak for me, though. The idea that this rule isn’t ever used to prevent temptation is just wrong. I’ve got a copy of my very first orgy joke that proves that’s exactly how this rule can be used. This was my introduction to the rule, and when I talk about it, this is where I’m coming from. If that’s not how it’s played out in your life, well, great. But you can’t tell me it hasn’t played out this way in other people’s lives.

*Names have been changed.

An Online Conversation With My 17-Year-Old Self

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In 1998—the era of screeching modems and dial-up speeds we thought were lightning fast—I was one of a few people I knew who had a home internet connection and their own website. When Geocities closed down, I thought my teenage website was gone forever, but thanks to Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine, it’s still out there, kicking it late-90s style.

I was an opinionated little thing back in the day. (I’m an opinionated big thing these days.) Since I’ve been working on a memoir for the past couple of years, I’ve been super focused on my teenage years. There have been many times I’ve wanted to get my past-self’s attention and set her straight on a few things.

So, let’s do that.

Kristy, we need to talk.

1


OK. First of all, nice Jack Handey reference.

But, honey, you need to go learn about the First Amendment because that’s not what “freedom of speech” means. It doesn’t mean you can say anything you want and nobody can argue with you about it.


2


Just so you know, nineteen years from now, you’re going to feel pretty damn smug about the Y2K scare.

And you remember that research paper you wrote on the Y2K bug for your senior English class? You know all those survivalist websites you read while doing research, and how you thought, “Hey, maybe this information will come in handy someday”? I’m sorry to tell you I’ve never had to help deliver a breach baby, so all those diagrams we saw are just taking up head space. Sorry.


3


You feel like people are kicking you around? Oh, my sweet summer child. You have no idea what’s coming for you next year.

I do like that barking comment. I’d make the same sort of nonsensical comparison between myself and a barking dog, though I have spellcheck so I can spell chihuahua. It only took me three tries to get close enough for the spellchecker to figure out what I was trying to say. Advancements in technology will definitely make your life easier.


4


You know what? I think people are basically good too. (But don’t tell anyone. It’ll hurt my street cred.)


5


Aw, did you really have to take a swipe at organized religion? You do realize you’re a member of a church right now, don’t you? You can be religious and have a personal connection to God, Kristy. I promise.

And I know you’ve heard a lot of noise about those Mary-worshiping Catholics, but they aren’t so bad. Most of them will be pretty nice to you, even when you’re being kind of an asshat.


6


You probably spent it all at the concession stand at the drive-in. Those burgers are the bomb! Well, they were the bomb. Sadly, nothing is the bomb in 2017. It’s a bleak world you live in now.

Also, “Where’d all the money go?” is a question you’ll be asking for the next two decades. Get used to it.


7


Right now, I kind of want to pinch you. I get it. You were told, “Get a degree, and you’ll get a great job!” We were all told that. It’s not your fault you believed it.

You know, ten years from now, you’re going to have a good paying job without a college degree. You’ll still go back to school, which is great, but it wasn’t the degree that got you anywhere. It’ll be your work ethic, willingness to help others, and miming skills that’ll get you ahead. (OK. Maybe not the miming skills. Those haven’t really come in handy yet, but I hold out hope for the future.)


My best advice to you for the future is to settle down a little. Let people disagree with you, and when they do, listen. You don’t have to change your mind, but at least listen.

Learn to be patient. Learn to be humble.

Stick with that frantic writing style you’re starting to develop. It’s the bomb.

You’re a little annoying, but I think you’re going to be OK.

How to Train Your Christian

 

Christian

Christians, while fun and loving, can present many challenges. Proper training is the key to a happy and healthy Christian.

Obedience Training

There are two commands that every Christian should learn.

Down – This command is often difficult for Christians to learn because of its submissive posture.

Leave It – This command is vital, though many trainers neglect it. Do not shy away from it, as it can safely remove your Christian from a fight they clearly can’t win.

Socialization

It’s important to keep your Christian from becoming isolated, which often leads to aggressive behaviors. Expose your Christian to diverse people and experiences as soon as possible. If you delay socialization, it can lead to an easily frightened and startled Christian when they encounter these situations at a later time.  Their fear may lead them to react by growling and even biting.

Nutrition

Start your Christian off with easily digested nutrients. Slowly work your way up to foods that take a little more effort to chew. Your Christian may resist the change, but keeping them on a liquid diet will lead to malnutrition.

Territory Marking

Christians instinctively mark their territory. Do not be surprised when this happens.

Marked territory

Discipline

If may be tempting to smack your misbehaving Christian on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, but this is not effective. Instead, give a clear and firm, “No.” Attempt to redirect your Christian toward a more positive activity. If your Christian persists, repeat “no” until he stops. Reward him with praise when he gives up the negative behavior.

More Mature Christians

While most people flock to cuter, newer Christians, others prefer the company of more mature Christians. This can be both rewarding and challenging.

A properly trained mature Christian can be a delightful companion, bringing warmth and love into your life. Many people appreciate their more patient pace when compared to less mature Christians, who are prone to jumping on people.

However, a poorly training mature Christian presents a real challenge. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to break any bad habits they may have picked up. If you choose a mature Christian who hasn’t been properly training, know that you can still receive plenty of love and affection from them.

 

Taking on a Christian is a serious responsibility. You should not take on the challenge unless you are prepared to fully dedicate yourself. Christians all over the world are abandoned every year. If it’s absolutely necessary, you can find your Christian another safe home, but never abandon your Christian. This only contributes to packs of wild Christians roaming through cities and neighborhoods.

If you do decide to take on this responsibility, you will be rewarded with a few chew marks, but plenty of love as well.

 

Photo credits: Freely

For the Ones Who Can’t See the Light

Dear You,

I know.

I know what it’s like to trudge through knee-high snow, in the woods, at midnight, without a coat, during a blizzard, and squint through those icy bites, looking for that warm candle light that will lead you home, but there is no effing flicker of light out there.

OK. Maybe I don’t actually wander the woods during a blizzard, but I think you understand what I mean. I think you understand what it’s like to be lost. You know what it’s like when you can’t find the light, and no matter which way you turn, you just find more trees blocking your view, and you’re so, so tired of wading through snow banks.

And you get how scary it is to be alone in the woods at night. Monsters live in the woods. Werewolves and demons and child-eating witches. This is no place to be alone.

But you already know that. Because me and you? We know what it’s like to lose. For every forward movement to be a struggle, and you don’t know what’s ahead of you, or even if you’re going the right way.

Every snowflake’s supposed to be unique, right? Maybe your snow looks like your children not having enough food. Or maybe each flake is an image of someone you’ve lost. Or all the mistakes you’ve made. Or all the false faces you’ve worn. Or the memories of a thousand backhands.

Here’s the part where I’m supposed to say something inspirational. But I’m not going to tell you something stupid, like if you just look up you’ll find a star you can follow all the way home. Because I know you can’t see the stars when you’re in the middle of the woods, during a fucking blizzard.

And I can’t tell you things will get easier. That the wind will die down and the snow will let up. I don’t know what’ll happen.

What I can tell you is you aren’t out in the woods on your own. I’m out here with you. A lot of people are. And maybe we aren’t all heading in the same direction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t wade through the snow together for a while. When your fingers go numb, borrow my gloves. When I fall face first into a snow bank (because God knows I fall into a lot of snow banks), maybe you can give me your hand and help me up.

I can’t promise we’ll make our way home, but maybe we can provide a little warmth for one another. And maybe we’ll be a little safer because those monsters would rather pick off lonely travelers.

So, if it’s OK with you, I’d like to walk with you for a while.

Love,

Me

The Spiritual Gift of Shutting Up

 

Have you ever taken one of those spiritual gifts tests?

You answer a few multiple choice questions and the test suggests which spiritual gifts you might have. And then you compare your gifts with your friends, while pretending to be all humble about “leadership” being your spiritual gift. Next, comes the argument about whether or not those pesky charismatic gifts still manifest today or not because Jill got the gift of healing and that just plain doesn’t happen anymore.

Right?

I guess it might depend on what you consider “healing”.

For now, let’s ignore physical healing. Instead, let’s talk about emotional and spiritual healing. Some people are gifted in this area. And do you know what they have in common? They’re good listeners.

When someone with an emotional or spiritual wound comes to you, the first thing they need you to do is listen. They need to know that they are heard and understood. After all, if you don’t take the time to learn what their problem is, how could you possibly help them with it?

Shutting up is a spiritual gift. Listening, without adding your two cents, or making suggestions, or pushing your own agenda, is healing.

After that person is done speaking, don’t just jump in with, “OK, now here’s what you ought to do…” or “Well, here’s why that happened…” Don’t compare their pain to anyone else’s pain. Don’t jump all over them and tell them why they should already be over it.

Take time to make sure they know you’ve truly heard them. Express a little empathy. Keep it short and sweet.

“What happened to you was wrong.”

“That really, really sucks.”

“I’m so sorry.”

And then shut up again. Because just that little expression of understanding and validation will probably unleash the flood. Most people are used to everyone ignoring their pain. Like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, most people just avert their eyes and run-walk past a person who’s hurt. It’s not often you run into someone who’s truly willing to listen to you, so it’s not uncommon for people to unload on the first person who’s willing to listen. That’s OK.

Just shut up and let them unload.

Over time, most people will get to the point where they can move forward again. It takes time and patience, but everything worth doing takes time and patience.

Maybe this person isn’t in a place where they feel comfortable talking to God. In that case, it’s up to Christians to step in. We represent Christ to the world, after all. Let the Holy Spirit work through you to be the ears of Christ for that person.

The next time you encounter someone who is suffering some emotional or spiritual hurt, I encourage you to embrace the work of the Holy Spirit, and shut up.

#Triggered Jokes

January 2000 - About 6 months after the first break in. You know what makes you grumpy? Not being able to unpack your belongings for 4+ months because you don't have a permanent home yet.

Three months after my family uprooted ourselves and moved across the country to escape the man who repeatedly broke into our home and threatened to murder me by setting me on fire and burning me alive. I guess all the nightmares and fire and noise-triggered panic attacks I experienced for years after this were pretty funny when you think about it.

“Sherlock sucks.”

#Triggered

He posts it as a joke. He’s making fun of all the little internet kiddies who use “triggered” when they really mean “I don’t like that thing you just said.”

But those little internet kiddies aren’t reading his comment. I am. And those kids misappropriated that word from the people who need it. Those kids aren’t triggered. They’re irritated. They’re offended. They’re angry. They are not triggered.

What is a Trigger?

When a person has lived through a trauma, sometimes they develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This isn’t the “trauma” of having your favorite TV show cancelled. This is serious, you really could have died, trauma.

These are people who’ve survived wars, survived terrorist attacks, survived sexual assault, survived murder attempts. We’re talking some hardcore shit here.

When you’re faced with a life-or-death situation, part of your brain kicks in to protect you. Your heart rate goes up. Your system gets flooded with adrenaline. Your breathing changes. Because you need to either fight off something that wants to kill you or you need to run like hell away from that thing that wants to kill you.

And you can’t control how fast your heart races. I mean, go ahead. Try telling your heart to stay at exactly 90 BPM. Didn’t work? Well, it doesn’t work for people with PTSD either. They have no control over how their body reacts when their PTSD symptoms are triggered.

And that’s what “triggered” actually means. It doesn’t mean you’re mad. It doesn’t mean you’re offended. It means your PTSD symptoms have kicked into high gear.

Some symptoms of PTSD hang around most of the time. A person might be extra jumpy and always scope out the nearest exits when they go somewhere new. Other symptoms lay dormant until they’re triggered.

Acorns trigger my symptoms.

When I’m in my house at night and an acorn falls on my roof, I know it’s just a stupid acorn. I’m not delusional or anything. I know it’s not anything dangerous. But that sudden thump on my roof when it hits activates my fight-or-flight response. My heart rate goes up. My breathing gets shallower. My eyes go wide. I’m reliving the same terror I felt when I was 18 and my life was actually in danger. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you have some idea of what I’m talking about. It’s not fun when you aren’t in control of what your body is doing.

My conscious mind knows it’s just a stupid acorn, but my unconscious mind was trained a long time ago to spring into action when it perceives a threat. A loud noise is perceived as a threat.

There was a period of time in my life when not being hyper-alert might have gotten me murdered. This same heart-racing reaction, 17 years ago, could have saved my life. Now, it’s a nuisance. But, again, our hearts don’t listen to our commands.

A trigger can be anything that jerks a person with PTSD out of the present and smashes them up against the wall of their past trauma. It’s violent and it’s ugly.

I’m lucky. I don’t actually trigger all that easily, and when I do I’m pretty good at coping with everything until my body chills the eff out and goes back to normal.

What the #Triggered Joke Says

When I see someone post #Triggered as a joke, it tells me they are not a safe person for me to be around. They don’t understand the long-lasting effects of being traumatized, or they just don’t care.

And you know what else is a trigger for me?

Christians.

I already have a hard time trusting anyone who claims to be a Christian. I was traumatized by a group of Christians, after all. A #Triggered joke from one of them is like kicking me when I’m already down.

Oh, I get that they don’t mean it “that way”, but let’s get real. “Trigger” means something. Just because some kids use it incorrectly doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a real meaning.

But, Kristy, how can you get down on people who just don’t understand how damaging those jokes can be? Ignorance is innocence, right?

Well, this is me, explaining how damaging those jokes can be. And I don’t attack people when they do it. I try to educate them, but most people tend to be pretty damn resistant to be corrected on this one. I guess defending their joke is usually more important than saying, “I’m sorry I was an asshole to all the people out there who have uncontrollable and painful reactions to traumatic triggers.”

One of the factors that contribute to developing PTSD is a lack of social support after a traumatic event. And one of the contributing factors in healing from PTSD is positive social support. Which one do you think a “triggered” joke looks like?

It’s Just a Joke

Is it a joke that I was almost murdered? That when I was still just a kid, I woke up every day, wondering if that was my last day? If I’d have to kill or be killed?

Is it a joke that when I hear a noise at night, my body immediately jumps to, “I’m about to be murdered!”, even though I’m sitting there telling myself that that’s a ridiculous reaction?

Is it a joke that some vets can’t go to fireworks shows with their families because it takes them right back to a time when they were in a life-or-death situation, maybe even when they saw people being killed?

Triggers aren’t comments that offend us or upset us. Triggers are things that make us feel like we’re about to die. How is that funny?

But, Kristy, I’m not making fun of people with PTSD. I’m making fun of those kids who misuse “trigger”. Really? By making #Triggered comments that those kids won’t see, but people with PTSD will? By making a joke that further supports the misuse of that word, as if those kids are the ones who get to define it?

It’s Not My Problem

No, it’s not your problem. Lucky you.

I can’t speak for every single person who’s experienced a traumatic event, or for every person who developed PTSD symptoms after it, but I can speak for me. I don’t expect people to tip-toe around me. I don’t ask people to avoid talking about stalkers or assault or Christians. Sometimes people say something that sets me off on an unwanted heart-pumping adventure through my mental issues. But, that really isn’t that person’s problem. It’s my problem, and I deal with it on my own.

I can’t expect everyone to know what might trigger everyone’s PTSD. Hell, half the time people with PTSD don’t know what might trigger their PTSD, so we’re never going to be able to do that.

What I can expect is people to show some compassion and respect for people who have PTSD. To not make fun of people who were strong enough to survive whatever it was that could have killed them. To not make fun of people who are unexpectedly ambushed by their past, and have to learn how to live like that. It’s not easy to do.

Maybe you didn’t know making that #Triggered joke was such a big deal. Well, now you know. I forgive you. Now, do better.

Or don’t. Say what you want, but know that your words affect other people. It’s your call whether or not that matters to you.

For more information about PTSD.

Mandatory Year-end Blog Post 2016

2016 started rough. I was still working on the first draft of my memoir, and writing a book is hard, y’all. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and I once managed to get my car out of a snowbank using nothing but McDonald’s bags). I feel like a wizard should show up to tell me I’ve fulfilled my destiny or some shit. Except I’m still revising a little, so the wizard will have to come back sometime in 2017.

Honestly, I haven’t done much this year besides write, read, watch Kimmy Schmidt, and eat insane amounts of wintergreen Life Savers. I have a super glamorous life.

 

Top Five Most Viewed Posts

What Does Being Stalked Look Like? 

Last year, my parents found several rolls of undeveloped film. When they developed them, we found a whole roll of pictures that were taken while I was being stalked. While working on my memoir, I pulled out all the pictures my family has of just before and after this time as well. Seeing a visual timeline spread out like that hit me harder than I thought it would. It was like watching my life fall apart. When I shared some of those pictures, I didn’t think people would be very interested in them. I’m still not sure why this post was so popular. Maybe it helps drive home just how young I was. Maybe people just like seeing me in tie-dye (I know I do).

 

When Supporters Strip Rape Victims

header imageVictims are often stripped of their voice. Because of fear or shame or people who won’t listen. It’s important to allow them to speak about their experiences, on their own terms, without projecting our own assumptions onto them.

Sometimes I write a post because I’m frustrated with a trend. This was one of those times.

 

The God Who Suffers

God knows what it’s like to be abandoned by the people you love. God knows what it’s like to be falsely accused. God knows what it’s like to be humiliated and shamed. God knows what it’s like to suffer.

While I don’t fully understand the Trinity (who does?), I have a much deeper appreciation for it. I’ve grown more attached to the crucified Christ through that.

 

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?

What does forgiveness look like when you’re still broken? When you’ll never not be broken? How do you forgive someone who doesn’t think they did anything wrong?

If you ever get down on yourself for being slow to forgive, just remember it took me 15 years just to get started. (Bonus: Y2K fantasies)

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Creeds

Credit: Steve SnodgrassChristians all over the world, in different traditions that wouldn’t normally agree on much, stand up together on Sunday mornings and as one body recite the same words Christians have recited for centuries. And that’s a powerful thing to be a part of.

More evidence that I’m some sort of denominational Frankenstein’s monster. (See? I know the monster’s name isn’t Frankenstein. How impressed are you right now?)